Dear Readers, first a belated Happy New Year – I hope that 2023 brings everything that you need most, with a good helping of joy along the way. Thank you for reading along and for your support and appreciation over the years, I value it more than I can possibly say.
But now, August. This can feel like the tipping point of the year – some plants are still in flower, while berries are already appearing on many more. The birds will mostly have done their breeding for the year, and the garden may seem strangely silent. There should still be lots of insects about though, and maybe even the first orb spider webs – the spiders have been in the garden for ages, but this is the first time that they’ve grown big enough to be noticed. Let’s see what else is in store for us….
Things to Do
- As we get into the second half of 2023, a lot of organisations haven’t yet posted any events. However, I did discover that the Royal Parks have a selection of self-guided walks for you to download – some, such as ‘Music for Trees’ (which has pieces of music to be listened to under particular trees) have an app to download, while others, such as the ‘More Than Bugs’ trail and the St James’s Park Tree Walk have maps for you to follow. Just the thing if it isn’t too hot.
- The London Natural History Society has two interesting walks. The first, ‘Looking at trees around St Paul’s Cathedral‘ could not be more central, and I know from my street tree walk in the area that there are a lot of very interesting specimen trees to be examined. The walk takes place on Saturday 12th August from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- The second LNHS walk is at Richmond Park, and will be looking at the ecology and entomology of this very interesting area.
Plants for Pollinators
The RHS guide to Plants for Bees (in January’s RHS magazine) suggests Field Scabious as the ideal plant for the month – it provides food for two specialised species (the small scabious mining bee (Andrena marginata) and the large scabious mining bee (Andrena hattorfiana), plus many other species, including the beautiful red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarious) and a whole host of hoverflies and beetles.
Other suggested plants include greater knapweed, globe thistle, catmint (though not if you have feline visitors to the garden as it will most likely get squashed), fuchsia (so good for hawkmoths of various kinds) and my favourite, wild carrot.
- As I’ve noted before, August can be a very quiet time in the garden – many adult birds are moulting and so are keeping a low profile, and there is starting to be plenty of food in parks and woodland and hedgerows, from acorns and beech mast to berries and rosehips. This is the start of the big autumn feed-up, both for birds who stay in the UK and need to endure the lean months, and for those who are planning to migrate.
- Juvenile birds may well be forming mixed flocks – tits and finches in particular do this, and it can be fun to see if there’s anyone unusual in amongst the ‘usual suspects’. You might get a brief glimpse of an unexpected young nuthatch or even a lesser spotted woodpecker that has been ‘caught up’ in a flock. There’s strength in numbers, and more eyes means more chances to spot food and avoid predators, plus the pressure to form territories and find partners is off until the spring.
- The swifts, the last to arrive in the UK in May, are also the first to leave, and you will be lucky to spot any after the end of this month.
- You might find that your local house sparrows have disappeared, too – they often ‘take a holiday’ in August, if there are seeding plants around. They won’t usually go more than a mile, and will be back by September, homebodies that they usually are.
- And this is the prime month to see goldfinches feeding on thistles and teasel. The males have slightly longer beaks, and so are more able to cope with the long spines that protect the teasel seeds, leaving the females to eat the thistles.
Plants in Flower
Judging by my posts from previous years, Japanese anemones are putting in an appearance now, along with agapanthus, the small hardy geraniums (such as hedge cranesbill), common toadflax (as in the first photo), bristly oxtongue and nipplewort, and Japanese knotweed (ahem). Buddleia might still be in flower, and so will the more showy hydrangeas. Hemp agrimony and purple loosestrife are both resplendent alongside the pond.
What is really noticeable though is the amount of fruit – everything from elderberries, brambles and rosehips on the dog roses to conkers and acorns, through sea buckthorn and pyracantha. No wonder all the birds have gone AWOL. By the end of the month, most of the haws on my hawthorn tree will be gone.
Other Things to Look/Listen Out For
- If you’re on a seaside holiday, spend some time watching the gulls and their antics. Many a café owner will be patrolling the seafront with a water pistol to try to deter some of the herring gulls. Good luck with that!
- Six of the nine species of British blue butterfly will be on the wing.
- The larger bumblebees will be a bit less in evidence, but the common carders will be out and about for a few months yet. In my garden they are late to appear, but are also the last bumbles to be on the wing.
- Keep an eye open for the sycamore moth caterpillar, a very flamboyant creature. As the name suggests, you’ll find it on sycamore trees, maples and horse chestnuts.
- Juvenile green woodpeckers might be independent, but they might also be being ‘shown the ropes’ by their parents, as was the case with the one below. The adult was hammering into an ants’ nest when it was ‘seen off’ by a magpie. What outrageously cheeky opportunists they are.
- Keep your eyes open for clouded yellow butterflies – these are migratory, and if conditions are right, you might see them in some numbers in high summer. The last big ‘Clouded Yellow Summer’ was in 2006, so we are well due for another one.
- Generally a quiet month for foxes, but make the most of it – as autumn approaches it can sound like all hell has broken loose in the garden.
- There are two full moons this month. The first, on 1st August, is known as the Grain Moon or Lynx Moon. The second, on 31st August, is the Wine Moon or Song Moon. When two full moons appear in the same month, the second one is known as a Blue Moon.
Holidays and Celebrations
- 1st August – Lammas (Christian)/Lughnasa (Gaelic/Pagan) – first harvest festival
- 7th August – Summer Bank Holiday, Scotland and Ireland
- 20th August – Women’s World Cup Final in Sydney, Australia
- 26th to 28th August – Notting Hill Carnival
- 28th August – Summer Bank Holiday, England, Wales and Northern Ireland
I rember seeing a wonderful play called ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’. It moved me to tears at one point.
That is one great play…